Judge 'felt bound' to give shorter jail term to man who sexually assaulted girl

CORNER BROOK, N.L. — A Newfoundland judge says he gave a man who sexually assaulted a teenage girl a shorter prison sentence than he considered appropriate because he felt bound to accept a joint Crown-defence submission for only four years.

The 36-year-old man exchanged explicit images with the 14-year-old girl for several months before having unprotected sexual intercourse with her while she was intoxicated.

Corner Brook provincial court Judge Wayne Gorman found seven years of imprisonment was an appropriate sentence given the "horrendous nature" of the man's crimes and his blaming of the underage victim, a classmate of his son's, for the offences.

A joint submission from the defence and Crown, however, sought a sentence of four years.

Gorman wrote in his recent sentencing decision that he "felt bound to accept the joint submission," even if he found it disproportionate to the severity of the crimes.

"Having concluded that a period of seven years of imprisonment is appropriate, why did I impose a period of four years of imprisonment? Solely because this is the sentence requested by counsel in the joint submission presented," Gorman wrote in the Oct. 29 decision.

The decision cited legal precedent indicating judges should accept joint submissions unless the terms are so "unhinged" from the case that a reasonable person would believe the justice system has broken down -- meaning Gorman felt he had no legal basis to reject the submission.

These citations included guidelines set by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Gorman wrote that he found these terms indicated the top court intended "significant limiting of judicial discretion" when dealing with joint submissions, and he found it unlikely that any submission would lead someone to believe the justice system was broken.

"It is hard to imagine any single sentencing submission ever having this effect and what do the words a 'break down in the proper functioning of the criminal justice system' mean?"

The sentencing decision describes how the offender met and pursued a relationship with the young girl, with the two sending each other sexually explicit photos and videos over Snapchat before the older man began telling her he loved her and wanted to marry her.

The two had intercourse in the man's car after he gave her alcohol and tobacco.

The decision said the man downplayed his crimes in conversations with police, and referred to himself as the "victim" -- something Gorman highlighted as especially troubling.

The judge wrote that while the man pleaded guilty, he "does not understand that (she) is the victim."

"His blaming of her for what occurred causes me great concern as regards any prospects for rehabilitation and it illustrates the need to remove (him) from society," Gorman wrote.

The document also quoted a statement from the girl's mother, describing the devastating impact the crimes have had on her family.

"When something like this happens to your child it makes you feel beyond helpless. Helpless because there is not one thing I can do in this moment to change or take away the things my daughter has suffered," she wrote.

"I also feel deep, deep sadness for what has happened because it feels like my daughter's innocence was taken away from her. That is something that can never be returned."

- By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L.

The Canadian Press

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